in all the 40+ years of my photography I’ve been witness to the ‘battle’ between the pictorial photographers and the technical wizards. The ‘competition’ between the formalists who demand super sharp, dramatically lit, perfectly exposed photographs and then the ‘that’s what there is’/’WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)’ school, of which I’m a member.
I’m not a formal portrait/studio/product/advertising photographer, neither am I a nature/scenic photographer. I am a candid street people photographer. I don’t own any lighting, I simply use God’s gift of natural/available light. I own one flash which is only used at times when doing a commercial child shoot for their family, and even that is only for ‘fill light’. I have an old Slik aluminium tripod that has been with me for all my photographic years and unused. ALL my shots are hand-held with what ever available light there is, whether it’s outdoor street, indoor performances such as dance in big auditoriums, the more intimate atmosphere of a folk club or some such.
My aim, my photography, is to observe, record a certain emotion/reaction of an unknown stranger/s, try and be a part of their world at that nanosecond of time and then to allow my audience to enter and share that moment with us. If I hear comments, such as ” I feel that I was there/I can hear his music/the photograph was like a punch in the gut/etc.etc…..” I know that my interpretation was right. That’s my story telling. That’s my Art.
Many of my photographs are not pin-sharp or perfectly lit. By nature of the beast they won’t be. Most of my shots are split second observations that involve seeing, recognizing, framing and shooting. If the focus/DoF/movement is a little off, so be it. To me the mood and composition are vital, the rest important but less so. Besides, I often find, that the slight movement or lack of sharpness often add to the atmosphere/attitude that would be lost in a sharp perfectly exposed photograph.
What’s bugging me, the reason for this venting of a little steam, is that there are so many detractors/critics who cannot get their heads round the fact that technically ‘imperfect’ photographs are valid.
In this photo of Angie, when posted on a certain forum, the comment was “the eyes are too dark…….”, the implication being that I needed to lighten them in Photoshop. Well, hey man, this was shot on HP3 film pushed to 1200ASA in a small room with a single 60W bulb hanging from the ceiling. Totally spontaneous, hand held and candid. The dark mysterious eyes are totally Angie!……….’that’s what there is’ with no corrections, additions or subtractions.
I feel that the younger generation of snappers who only know digital and Photoshop, Portrait Professional and/or the myriad other editing programmes with their extreme capabilities of ‘fixing’ a face, not only by smoothing and deblemishing skin and even ‘correcting’ shapes of faces and bodies, thereby creating perfectly correct technical photographs, while at the same time recreating the people they have photographed according to the World of Photoshop etc. and not faithfully representing the subject. A whole new and different concept of photography has emerged. A concept, which to me, misses the point completely. While we’re at it let’s not forget the eyes. Have you noticed how suddenly all and sundry have big, bright, sparkling clear eyes surrounded by perfectly white eyeballs. No little red veins or heaven forbid, slightly bloodshot eyes. No real eyes. At times I feel like I’m looking at a C.S.I. Miami computer reconstruction of a cadaver.
A friend of mine a while ago shot a portrait of a lovely model who happened to be a freckled red head. My friend showed me both the original shot and the Photoshopped edited version – a stunning red head with a peaches and cream complexion. Although the Ps technique was done perfectly, my friend was unhappy with the results and she couldn’t figure out why. There was something ‘just not right’ with the shot. I told her that, in my opinion, the original shot was by far the better shot. For me she had got it right in the camera. To me the freckles were an integral part of the model’s character and without them the shot just wasn’t her, it was somebody else, an imaginary person. My friend on relooking and rethinking, saw the light and agreed.
I believe that what happened here was that my friend, as usual when editing, just followed the usual practice of smoothing and unblemishing because that’s what one does in Ps & clones. There are a zillion presets and plugins that do it with one click, so it must be right. It’s all become quick & ‘easy’ , definitely the way to go.
The truth of the matter is that creating a good photograph is never easy. The post-shoot editing is a lot of hard work and that’s why getting it right in the camera is so important. The more right it is in the camera, the less editing is required and is that much easier. Now somebody will say that even in traditional photo, editing was done in the dark room. Very true, but the editing was mainly to correct slightly. A little dodging and burning to improve highlight or bring out shadow detail and other small lighting problems or a little spotting and retouching to get rid of dust or a bad pimple. Never was/is editing about playing God and recreating a person according to one’ s whims and fancies.
If one is shooting for Playboy, Penthouse, or the old Vargas works, then yes, extreme editing and ‘airbrushing’ to create Amazonian seductress Barby Dolls, is the name of the game. But the creating portraits of real people, nature scenes and any other type of shot, is all about getting it right in the camera. If one is shooting a scene and the telegraph pole is in the way, move your arse and find another position where the telegraph pole is not in your way. Removing the pole in Ps creates a scene that does not exist.
To me, photography is about faithfully recording a specific instant in time. There is no end to the number of ways that this can be creatively done, but the changing of the circumstances is, to my mind a whole different thing. It is not the faithful recording, it, in the best instance, is a different form of Art using photography as a tool, or in the worst instance, a lack of integrity and just plain dishonesty, mainly fooling yourself.